When placing your NFL picks on the Seattle Seahawks this season, there is a new man in town who will not only improve the team's 3rd down conversions, but their final score as well.
When it comes to the Seattle Seahawks’ game plan to win a game, it is run first, control the ball, and run out the clock. For this reason, any improvement on 3rd down performance makes a big difference in time of possession, and could mean the difference at the end of a game between a desperate last minute possession by the opposition or not. Even with this game plan, the Seahawks had the best winning percentage over the last two years with the worst 3rd down conversion percentage in the league. This trend flies in the face of logic and partially explains Russell Wilson’s huge new contract. What did the Seahawks do to improve this situation in 2015? Only add the best 3rd down possession receiver in the game over the last two years, TE Jimmy Graham.
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Wilson’s 3rd down rating went down considerably without the presence of all pro TE Zach Miller in 2014. On 3rd down in the 2012 season, Wilson’s QB rating was 96.2, in 2013 it was 90.0, and finally in the 2014 season it dropped to 77.1 and included the most interceptions of any down. Although his rating dropped considerably, his completion percentage on 3rd down remained nearly the same. In 2012 it was 60.0%, in 2013 it was 59.1%, and last year he posted a 60.9% 3rd down completion percentage.
Let’s compare this to the 3rd down percentage of Graham’s last QB, Drew Brees. Although in a completely different offensive scheme, the usage of Graham in high leverage situations is evident. Brees’ 3rd down completion percentage in the same span as Wilson above comes in at 56.1% in 2012, 64.6% in 2013, and 63.8% in 2014. Hidden in that lower 2012 completion percentage is the dominance that this duo had on 3rd down and medium yardage, where Graham was targeted 28 times which resulted in 16 first downs. That’s why even in a down year Brees 3rd down QB rating was still 90.0, following that up with 103.1 rating in 2013, and 83.3 in 2014. But the 2014 stats get even better when just considering Brees’ targets to Graham on 3rd and medium, where his passer rating comes in at 143. The Saints were number one in the NFL overall in 3rd down conversion percentage last year to the tune of 48.3%. That’s a far cry from the Seahawks who came in around 38%.
3rd and short has always been covered with the Seahawks in their current configuration with the emergence of the running game and Marshawn Lynch. Now it would seem that they have no reason to have 3rd and medium covered too with the addition of Jimmy Graham. It’s basically going to be a play action rollout to Graham down the seam or out in the flat. Last year, Seattle was running the ball in this situation to a 67% conversion success rate. When passing that success percentage dropped to 44%, highlighting the absence of say, an all pro TE?
This isn’t even taking into consideration the 3rd down completion percentages in the red zone. If Jimmy Graham were a 2014 Seahawk, the Super Bowl 49 ending play wouldn’t have happened. We’d have seen a fade or crossing route at the back of the end zone like we’ve seen from Brees and Graham countless of times. It could also be said that if Seattle wins that game Graham wouldn’t be in Seattle right now. But Russell Wilson should be glad he is, because his life just got a whole bunch easier. Take this in consideration when wagering on Seattle game lines, or live line action, in the 2015 season.